The grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation likely helped the Government to meet its commitments to UNESCO in a bid to keep the Reef off the “in danger” list.
The grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation likely helped the Government to meet its commitments to UNESCO in a bid to keep the Reef off the “in danger” list.

Great Barrier Reef cash row grows

IT was a donation that, in the words of Malcolm Turnbull, represents the "single biggest contribution and investment in the health of the Great Barrier Reef ever".

But the process by which the Prime Minister and his Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg handed over almost half a billion dollars to a small charity has raised questions that are yet to be answered.

An agreement to hand over the money was made at an April 9 meeting between Mr Turnbull, Mr Frydenberg and Great Barrier Reef Foundation chairman John Schubert.

Unlike the usual process with larger government grants, other groups were not invited to apply for the funds through a competitive tender. The group had not sought the money and its managing director, Anna Marsden, later admitted it was an "absolute surprise". No public servants were at the meeting.

The charity, which had only six full-time staff at the time, has embarked on an expansion plan to allow it to spend the funds over six years on problems ranging from coral bleaching to the crown-of-thorns starfish. It received the money in a lump sum just before the end of last financial year, with the large payment likely to help the Government meet its commitments to UNESCO in a bid to keep the Reef off the official "in danger" list.

Mr Turnbull insists he followed a transparent process, noting the grant was endorsed by Cabinet and disclosed in the May Budget just weeks after it was offered.

The foundation promotes its ability to partner with the private sector. But the green credentials of some of its corporate partners, which include mining giants BHP, Rio Tinto and Peabody Energy, have raised eyebrows among critics.

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“There needs to be a concerted global push to meet, or even exceed, targets in the Paris Agreement,” says Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden
“There needs to be a concerted global push to meet, or even exceed, targets in the Paris Agreement,” says Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden

THE CASE FOR THE GRANT

by Anna Marsden, managing director of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation

EVERY Australian understands the threats facing the Great Barrier Reef. A toxic mix of causes - and effects - are damaging one of the world's great ecosystems.

Climate change sits atop the list of offenders and there needs to be a concerted global push to meet, or even exceed, targets in the Paris Agreement.

We need to match those endeavours with local mitigation that can undo the damage already caused and begin building a more adaptable and resilient Reef.

That's where the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) comes into play. As the lead charity for the Reef, we have raised over $90 million over our 18 years.

At the core of our work is our ability to draw together the disparate groups who are working to restore the Reef. There are hundreds of people and organisations working to protect the Reef including universities, research institutions, government agencies, scientists, traditional owners and community groups.

The GBRF is the body where these myriad groups come together to work on the highest priority projects which will have the greatest impact on protecting and restoring the Reef.

One of our recent projects was protecting the world's largest green turtle rookery and saving 220 adult female green turtles (pictured) on Raine Island. I have no doubt that without our work, the green turtle nursery would have been in serious danger of collapse.

Due to the Commonwealth's investment of $443 million into efforts to protect and restore the Reef, our endeavours can go further. We can pool the best science and research to improve water quality, tackle crown-of-thorn starfish and build greater Reef resilience and adaptation.

Our work is guided exclusively by science.

Project selection and oversight is the responsibility of the International Scientific Advisory Committee (ISAC).

ISAC is made up of the leaders of research and management on the Reef, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the CSIRO and major universities.

Also, take a look at our website (barrierreef.org), where we detail the projects we're working on, and make up your own mind on the work that we're doing to restore the Reef.

It's vital, urgent and we're committed to the cause.

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THE CASE AGAINST THE GRANT

by Simon Black, Greenpeace Australia Pacific's media campaigner

IT'S a fact that almost 70 per cent of lotto winners end up flat broke within a few years. They don't know how to spend all that money, lack perspective, and spend irresponsibly.

It makes you wonder what the Government was thinking when it decided to ignore the expertise of organisations such as CSIRO, James Cook University, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, with the now infamous $444 million gift to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

"It's like we've just won lotto," the tiny charity's chief executive Anna Marsden said in May.

But let's hope not too much like that. What is this windfall supposed to do to save the Reef? There is surprisingly little detail. More surprising still, the foundation had not applied for the grant, there had been no call for tenders - in fact they did not know they were being considered at all.

In fact, most of the process funnelling half a billion dollars into the foundation - whose board is made of alumni or staff of organisations such as Exxon, Shell, and BHP - seems to be confusing even those who made this blunder.

When pressed on the matter, Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has taken to either dodging questions as he did with 4BC presenter Ben Fordham, or making statements that have been flatly contradicted, as was the case with his claims of "extensive due diligence" which the foundation's boss was blissfully unaware of.

She told the ABC she wasn't aware the diligence process was under way and that nobody else in the foundation was contacted.

Meanwhile, the Great Barrier Reef bleaches and dies while nothing is done to address the root cause of the issue - climate change.

This half a billion dollars won't do anything about that, despite the foundation acknowledging climate change is the biggest threat to the Reef. The 90-page agreement between them and the Government doesn't mention those words once.

Lotto winners certainly have a habit of going broke in just a few years. But the real bankruptcy comes from this Government which has so little regard for the environment and the Great Barrier Reef that it would waste half a billion dollars like this - and so little respect for the public that it thinks it can get away with it.

 

The grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation likely helped the Government to meet its commitments to UNESCO in a bid to keep the Reef off the “in danger” list.
The grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation likely helped the Government to meet its commitments to UNESCO in a bid to keep the Reef off the “in danger” list.


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